Organisation, and lack thereof

Note that I am not writing this entry seeking advice on how to organise things, with one exception, which is if people have systems for keeping track of academic literature I’d be interested to hear them. Otherwise, I’m just toying around with self-recognition. If you want to talk about your own bulletproof self-organisation strategies, please do so in your own space and I’d be happy to receive a link.

Jonathan Lange admits to some serious Getting Things Done violations which, although I am not a GTD user — in fact I have only skimmed the book — sparked some thought in me about my own organisation practices, or lack thereof.

First off, I mentioned this to my mother this afternoon and she said face it, you’re not an organised person. This is only partially true: she’s thinking of shoes, keys, wallets, pieces of paper and getting out the door on time, all of which I was hopeless with when living with her, and I’ve only improved dramatically at the timing thing. I am bad with physical objects.

I am, on the other hand, good with data. Part of the reason I can maintain certain amounts of physical chaos is that I have a good memory for names, dates, times and commitments. I am good with organising things inside my computer, occasionally a little too good in the I know I put this somewhere sensible but where? way but usually good.

What’s working for me:

  • Using an online calendar for anything I can attach a time to. It took about six months of occasional flesh wounds until Andrew and I were both fully converted to our new insanely scheduled way, but since around the end of 2005 we’ve been going strong. I can look at my calendar and 99% of the time it really does reflect every firm time commitment I’ve made to anything. And when I haven’t spent a weekend entirely at home since July, that’s important. We used Web Calendar for a long time until its faulty repeating-events logic drove me into the arms of Google Calendar, which works like a charm although in principle I would prefer to own that data entirely.
  • Email. It is highly procmailed and I am trying to add new rules all the time as an empty-ish inbox makes me happy. I’m not really trying for inbox zero, but inbox close-enough is OK. In most cases, my inbox contains only stuff I need to act on.
  • Scanning my snail mail to PDF. This probably doesn’t sound ideal because it’s not searchable, but neither is paper. And as previously established, I am better at electronic stuff than paper.

Obvious improvements I could make:

  • Carrying my calendar around with me. This would mean synchronising it to an electronic device and/or updating it on the road via mobile Internet of some variety. The reason I haven’t is that I am a cheapskate on the subject of both small electronic devices and paying the current (I believe outrageous) mobile data costs. I’m sure this will happen eventually, once it slides under my cheapskate threshold or I get a job which bundles it.
  • Better searchability for my email. Mairix is the most obvious solution (I have, for reasons not worth discussing, approximately zero interest in moving to Gmail), but I haven’t got around to hacking it up for my many copies of my mail on various computers and, also, I archive my old email to gzipped mboxes, which need a different solution.

Things I’m staying on top of, usually:

  • Photos, barring the photos of our November 2007 scuba trip to Thailand that I promised would be online in December. (Luckily, I promised it to people who do not have my email address.) No solution there: scuba photos need post-processing. We’re still using a kludged-up joint f-spot database over sshfs deal. I’d look into web things if it wasn’t for the pain and expense of dealing with the 29 gigabytes of photos I already have.
  • Music. We are oh-so-slowly re-ripping CDs to FLAC, but only because we are nuts. In the meantime, Squeezecenter finds us what we need.

Things I am totally at sea with:

  • Returning library books. No, I’m really really bad. I think I need to be strict with myself here: only one book at a time, and if I haven’t started reading it within a week, or I’ve lost steam, back it goes.
  • Long term lists of things I want to view or read. I have book and movie recommendations coming out my ears. I want to read more and watch more. I never keep notes.
  • Paper notes. I never never never got on top of this after high school. I don’t think that I ever once reviewed my hand-written university notes for any course at all. I am also a sufficiently fluent writer that taking notes does not greatly enhance my listening: it just all flows out through the pen without much effort in understanding it in the meantime. Plus I lose them or leave them at home. Moleskines, lab notebooks, meeting notes, I’m hopeless at them all unless I immediately transcribe them and email them to myself. This was a more serious impediment when I was doing maths courses, which are difficult to transcribe, but it’s still a major problem for PhD meetings.
  • PhD readings. This one is important and I need to solve it. I do not have a good system of filing (virtually, remember how I suck at paper?) papers that I will want to refer to, replicate or improve on. I am thinking of moving to some kind of wiki setup with a whole lot of folksonomy-ish tagging and notes aimed at enhancing searchability. (Our field’s major conference and major journal both are moving electronic only, but they are still PDF and still style guides aimed at printability rather than indexability and will be so for ever and ever.) I need to get quicker with my summarisation of papers, probably mainly focusing on the area, major technique employed, test corpus, and indicative percentage accuracies, rather than full summaries.